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{PP-F4} A Quiet Intermission

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There were faint ripples in the icy waters as his fingers broke the surface. The shock of the cold brought with it an emulated numbness; something he’d long since grown used to during his travels. He cupped his hands and brought what he could to his lips, savoring the drink. 

A moment passed. He let the rest fall between his fingers and stood, watching the chunks of ice drift lazily downstream. The young man cut a conspicuous figure across the endless white expanse, draped in black in harsh juxtaposition. A shadowy blotch stretched unattractively across a pure, untainted landscape. And he remained deathly still, until his focus gradually began to fail him, and his facade was sundered by the silent cacophony of his own mind.

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He drifted aimlessly between his usual haunts. As of late, things had gone quiet. There were no more posters in town bearing his likeness -- and if the lack of hunters counted as any good indicator, people didn’t seem too keen on tracking him down anymore, either. He kept his head down, yes, and stuck always to the darker parts of the cities he moved through... but somewhere along the road, he’d started to feel less like a fugitive and more like a vagrant; someone simply ignored and avoided, rather than despised and hunted. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that. 

The whole world seemed ready to move on. The whole world excluding himself.

The irony of it was not lost on him.

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The first place he stopped was along the road, a spot just barely beyond sight of Snowfrost. His mind filled with the endless rings of steel on steel, the feeling of his body tearing and being torn, and the surge of grim emotions that came with it. Each blow had been struck with such morbid finality that the memories had permanently burned themselves into his mind, whether he very well liked it or not. 

Bahr. Lessa. 

The names struck mournful chords, and he couldn’t help but wonder…

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His second reprieve was much like the first, and yet still completely different. Standing alone in an empty field, there was no thought. No emotion. 

That was what bothered him the most. 

The memory was there. He held it in the arms of his mind’s eye, but it was hollow, and he knew it shouldn’t be. He knew what he was supposed to feel, too. Guilt. Sadness. Pity. Anything. But he would be lying if he were to say that he did, and he was once again reminded that compassion was a learned behavior, not an innate one. It could be lost, and it could be erased. 

Perturbed, he turned away and continued on. 

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Trudging through the snow, he tried his best to shake the uneasiness that uncomfortably clawed his chest. His heart started to race. He wasn’t aware of it at the moment, but he’d begun to hold his breath. With every passing step, he wanted to run away just a little bit more. One excuse followed another, and doubts mounted interminably. There would always be another opportunity to visit. There was no reason to go. What did he even hope to accomplish? But he stubbornly refused to be bargained with. He pushed through it, resolute, though his veins turned to ice and he felt as though at any minute his teeth would snap and shatter under the pressure of his clamped jaw. 

He came to a stop at the snowy precipice. 

A few seconds passed where he did nothing but stand there, his heart pounding in his chest and his hands balled into white-knuckled fists. 

Slowly, carefully, he lowered himself to sit at the edge. 

With shaky hands, he fumbled in his jacket for an odd little trinket somebody had given him, and when found, he gripped it tightly. An anchor. His eyes slowly shut. In, out. His shudders punctuated each labored breath, an all-consuming anxiety permeating his being. He repeated that process until he found some fleeting semblance of calm, and he steadied. Lost but warm.

"Almost," he murmured, "I'm almost ready." 

And for the first time in a long time, when next he inhaled, he let himself fill with hope. Hope that things were going to be okay. 

*  *  *

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